Less is not always more

Mary Sahs

I have always been too much.

I am 19 years old and have measured just inches from six feet tall for the greater part of my life. It’s comical now to think of: the loud, talkative, five-foot-nine-inch, 9-year-old version of myself ambling through a sea of miniature fourth graders. I was happy and it didn’t faze me for the most part. Until one day when an older boy teased me, telling me girls shouldn’t be bigger than boys. And when a female teacher told me a girl my size shouldn’t speak so loud.

It didn’t make sense to me. I knew I was bigger than the other children, but I didn’t know my gender mattered in relation to my size.

Since then, I have grown to understand that society values girls who are small: girls with gaps between their thighs and the absence of rolls on their stomachs. But I fear that girls are being taught to make even more important parts of themselves disappear. I fear it because I see it in myself.

It didn’t make sense to me. I knew I was bigger than the other children, but I didn’t know my gender mattered in relation to my size.

When I talk in front of a group, I blush because others are actually hearing my thoughts. When I laugh loudly in public, my joy booming from between the big crooked teeth I’ve always been told to fix and the bright red lipstick my father always told me not to wear, people around me glare disapprovingly. I feel my spirit shrink back in shame. This isn’t shyness; this is an ingrained ideal that I, as a girl, should be seen and not heard. And even then, just barely. I, tall and chubby, have been made to feel like I am constantly too much. And terrifyingly, I feel myself erasing my character, much like I have tried to erase dreaded thigh or stomach fat.

I am not the only one; I see it everywhere. Young girls whose impassioned, bold actions are silenced by parents who tell their daughters to be “ladylike.” Girls who blush when asked what they actually think because, for the greater part of their lives, their opinions have been pushed to some dark corner of their minds. Women are too often taught to be ashamed of the big parts of ourselves: our round stomachs and arms, our expansive hopes and thoughts.

The parts of me that society values are the parts that don’t exist: my silenced opinions, my muffled laughter, my quiet, “ladylike” voice. Worse than the criticism of soft, plush bodies is the criticism of girls’ voices, their actions and their characters.

Women are too often taught to be ashamed of the big parts of ourselves: our round stomachs and arms, our expansive hopes and thoughts.

Why is it that we teach girls the bigger they are, the smaller they should feel? That the smaller they are, the more they are worth? And, more importantly, where does that leave us?

For me, it is a daily struggle. Still, I have found that reminding myself of the origins of these feelings helps me curb their effects. Shame about the size of a woman’s body, personality, or dreams and aspirations is not a natural feeling. We are taught from birth to minimize ourselves until we disappear completely. And, admittedly, it is a daily task to unlearn this. But if girls everywhere could begin to unlearn just that, perhaps we could start a huge, unapologetic change. So laugh and talk loudly even if your voice wavers. Remind yourself that you are worth taking up space. And keep growing your character and your dreams because they are what will change the world.

Comments

  1. Liz Rusnak says

    This is so true and it is inspiring for you to speak up about it! Thank you! You are an amazing young woman and it all starts with one!

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